Aliens, Citizens, and a Holy Temple

 

The idea of dividing God’s people into two, the church and Israel, is completely untenable based on this and many other Scripture passages. Jesus even taught that he has two flocks, one Jewish and another Gentile, but he will gather these two flocks, and “there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). Therefore, in his last prayer, he prayed not only for his Jewish disciples, but also for Gentiles who would believe, “that they may all be one” (John 17:20-21).

Isaiah 49:1-7; Ephesians 2:11-22 (text)

May 6, 2012 Download and print this sermon (PDF)

 

Affluence and poverty side by side

Affluence and poverty side by side, separated by walls

One of the most affluent communities in the Philippines is the Ayala Alabang subdivision in the southern part of Metro Manila. There you will find unimaginably huge palatial mansions of the rich and famous. But right behind the walls of this luxurious community are thousands of poverty-stricken people who live in shantytowns. This ironic scene is one of the most glaring contrasts that visitors see when they come to Manila. A high wall is built to separate an affluent gated subdivision, an expensive hotel or high-rise condominium from squatter villages around it for security and other reasons.

In Germany, there used to be a great wall that separated the Communist East Berlin from the democratic West Berlin. This was built by the Communist Russians and Germans supposedly to protect them from the Nazis, but in reality, it was to prevent millions of Germans from leaving their Communist country. In a 1987 speech in front of the famous wall, President Ronald Reagan delivered a message to Mikhail Gorbachev, the head of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later, in 1989, at the height of the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and the two formerly hostile nations, East and West Germany, were reunified into one nation.

History is full of walls of separation to protect people from their enemies. One of the most famous is the wall of Jericho that God destroyed in the 15th century B.C. so Israel could conquer the city. Like all ancient cities, Jerusalem had a wall famously destroyed by Babylon, then Rome. The mythical city of Troy had a wall that the Greeks destroyed in the Trojan War in the 13th century B.C. In Asia, the Great Wall of China was built about 220 B.C. to protect the Chinese from invaders.

In the second century A.D., the Roman emperor Hadrian built a wall in England to protect them from the northern tribes. In the 11th century A.D., the Spanish city of Avila, home of the mystic nun Teresa, built a wall to protect itself from Muslim invaders. When the Spanish colonists settled the city of Manila in the late 16th century, they built a walled city and called it Intramuros, which in Latin means “within the walls.” The walls were built to protect themselves from English and Dutch invaders and Chinese pirates.

But in Israel today, there is a great wall on the West Bank built by the Jews to separate their nation from the Palestinian refugee cities. The Jews say the wall is their protection from the hostile Palestinians. So the Palestinians call it a “wall of racial segregation,” while the Jews call it a “wall of separation.”

Our text refers to a wall of separation, but it is not a literal wall. Paul calls it “the dividing wall of hostility” (verse 14) that separates Jews from Gentiles. He tells the Ephesian believers that they were formerly helpless and hopeless aliens kept out of God’s chosen nation. But because of Christ’s bloody sacrifice on the cross, they are now citizens with full rights and privileges in God’s household. The dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles has, as Reagan said, been torn down, not by human hands, but by the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is now peace and unity between the two nations, and between this one new nation and God. As a result, one nation is being built into God’s house, a “holy temple in the Lord,” founded on the apostles’ and prophets’ teachings.

Today, our theme is “Aliens, Citizens, and a Holy Temple” under three headings: (1) Formerly Strangers and Aliens; (2) Now Citizens of God’s Nation; and (3) Growing into a Holy Temple.

Formerly Strangers and Aliens
In Chapter 1 of his letter to the Ephesian saints, Paul recalls God’s decree of election in eternity past, before he created the world, when he chose from among all mankind those whom he will redeem from sin and wrath. His choice was based solely on his gracious purpose in his Son Jesus Christ, sealed in the elect by his Holy Spirit unto the end when Christ returns to judge the world and give his people the whole of their heavenly inheritance.

Then in Chapter 2, Paul shifts his attention to the Ephesians. Recall that in the first ten verses, he reminds them of their helplessness without Christ. They were dead in sin, following the ways of the wicked world, carrying out its evil desires. They were, in short, helplessly destined for God’s wrath. With the words, “But God” in verse 4, Paul shifts the focus again on the gracious and merciful God, who has redeemed them in Christ. The whole of redemption therefore—from election, redemption, and glorification—is from God. No one can boast that he has contributed anything in his own salvation, other than his own trespasses and sins.

He begins the next part of his letter in verse 11 with another reminder, “Remember that you were Gentiles.” And what were they when they were Gentiles? Paul lists them in verses 11-12.

The Circumcision by Peter Paul Rubens, 1605 (click to enlarge)

The Circumcision by Peter Paul Rubens, 1605 (click to enlarge). Moses circumcised his first son, but not the second son. So God sought to kill him (Exod 4:24-26).

First, they were considered lower human beings by Jews, “the uncircumcision,” because beginning with God’s covenant with Abraham, the sign and seal of membership in God’s chosen nation is circumcision (1Sam 17:26; Acts 15:1). Those who are not circumcised, Jews and Gentiles alike, are considered “unclean.” Circumcision was so important to the Jews that it led to the Galatian heresy, when the first Jewish converts in Galatia wanted Gentiles to have the sign of circumcision to be justified and become members of God’s people.

Second, they were “separated from Christ,” the only way to becoming a part of God’s people; Paul explains later how Christ has incorporated Gentiles into God’s holy nation. Because “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22; Rom. 9:4–5), Gentiles who are separated from Christ have no salvation.

Third, they were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,” the chosen nation. The word “alienated” also means “estranged,” as husband and wife are estranged from each other when they separate before annulment or divorce. They have nothing to do with one another. They were “excluded from the corporate life of God’s people Israel.” 1 Paul describes unbelievers as “alienated” or estranged from the life of God (Eph 4:18).

Fourth, they are “strangers to the covenants of promise” because God did not make a covenant with them as he did with Abraham and his descendants. Since they were excluded from the covenants, the promises made to Abraham and his children did not apply to them. Only those who are in Christ are children of Abraham and heirs of the promise (Gal 3:29). So Paul uses terms common in the first century Roman world. Strangers were complete foreigners with no rights and privileges whatsoever (Acts 16:20-23). Aliens were non-citizen residents, so they were given partial privileges. Only citizens enjoyed full rights and privileges (Acts 21:39).

Fifth, they had “no hope.” What is this hope? It is “the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). It is also the hope of eternal life, the “hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col 1:5) and “the hope of glory” in Christ (Col 1:27).

Sixth, because they are aliens, outside of God’s covenant with his people, estranged from God, without any hope in Christ, they are also “without God in the world.” They may have other gods in this world, but they do not have the true and living God.

Seventh and last, they are “far off,” far from God, far from redemption, and far from heaven. Since they have no faith in Christ, “it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6).

Therefore, all Gentile unbelievers are apart from Christ and are unsaved, outside of God’s kingdom and his covenant promises, without hope, and without God. How then are Gentiles saved? Paul answers in verse 13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Now Citizens of God’s Nation
In the beginning of Chapter 2, Paul tells the Ephesians that they were formerly dead in sin, walking after the desires of this evil world. But in verse 4, he turns his thoughts around, and introduces it with, “But God.” In their helpless and lifeless condition, God raises them from their spiritual death to eternal life through Christ.

Here in verse 13, he again makes a shift, introducing it with “But now.” Gentiles who were once strangers and aliens, separated from Christ and the chosen nation, and far from God, are now “brought near by the blood of Christ.” They can now confidently and boldly come before God’s throne for salvation, hope and help. Long before Christ came, Isaiah prophesied about the salvation of both Jews, those are “near,” and Gentiles, those who are “far”, “Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him” (Isa 57:19).

When he came and offered his substitutionary blood, Christ opened the gates of heaven for Gentiles to come in. He offered his blood not only for the Jewish flock, but for other flocks, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). This is why in the garden on the night before he shed his blood on the cross, Jesus prayed to his Father, “I do not ask for these only [his Jewish disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 10:20). It was this idea of both Jews and Gentiles—those who are “far off”—as God’s people that Peter had in mind on his Pentecost sermon, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). So the risen Christ commissioned Paul, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21). With the preaching of Peter, Paul and the other apostles, Paul says Christ himself “preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (verse 17).

Through the body and blood of Christ sacrificed on the cross for them, Gentiles now are at peace on two fronts. First, their hostility with the Jews have ended, and there is now peace and reconciliation between them and the Jews. When before Gentiles were lower-class people, unclean, and outside of God’s chosen nation, now they have equal status with Jews: justified before God, cleansed from their sins, and members of God’s kingdom. They are not two nations anymore, separated by a dividing wall, but are reunited as one nation in one kingdom—Christ’s kingdom.

This reminds me of my upbringing in an evangelical community. There I was always taught, and I firmly believed it with all my heart and mind, that God had two distinct plans for two distinct peoples. The ultimate plan was the redemption of Abraham’s bloodline, the Jews. This plan was sidetracked when the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah who came primarily “to save his people from their sins,” his people being Israel.

God then turned to his Plan B, which was to save Gentiles during this church age. These Gentile believers would in turn be used by God to accomplish his Plan A, the salvation of the Jews. Thus, the church serves only as an interlude or commercial in God’s great drama of the redemption of Israel. In the Secret Rapture, Christ will take away Gentile believers from this world, and then turn his main focus again to the salvation of the Jews. After the Jews are saved during the Tribulation period, Christ will return for a third time, this time to reign as King of a Jewish millennial kingdom from Jerusalem. All during this time, Gentile believers will be in the heavenly kingdom.

This was the only view I was taught and what I believed until I studied for the first time Ephesians 2:11-22 and many other passages, especially the Book of Hebrews, that teach God’s one, eternal covenant for his one covenant people made up of Jews and Gentiles. Because I completely relied on what popular pastors such as M. R. DeHaan of Our Daily Bread, and books such as The Late Great Planet Earth, but never really studied the Biblical passages on the subject, I did not learn anything else.

When Paul referred to the “dividing wall of hostility,” he may have been alluding to the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles in the outer courtyard of the Temple. An inscription there warned Gentiles, “Whoever is arrested will himself be responsible for his death, which will follow.” Paul himself was wrongfully charged—and later was almost killed—with bringing an unclean, uncircumcised Ephesian believer, Trophimus, into the inner court (Acts 21:27ff).

With his death, Christ has torn down this dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. There is now a new unified chosen nation, “one new man in place of the two.” All those who are in Christ are citizens of this one nation, and there is no distinction among all of them, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slavenor free,there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). If Jews are Abraham’s physical descendants, all Gentile believers, together with Jewish Christians, are spiritual children of Abraham who inherit all the spiritual blessings God promised in his covenant, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). With this wall gone, God’s people are no longer divided along racial, cultural and national lines. For in heaven, Christians “from every tribe and language and people and nation” will worship God (Rev 5:9).

(Heb 9:11-12).

So why would many pastors and teachers divide God’s one nation into two, when from this text alone, it is clear that God has one redemptive plan for both Jews and Gentiles:

one Savior, Jesus Christ, Son of Abraham and Son of God; one means of redemption, through Christ’s bloody sacrifice; one instrument of justification, by faith alone in Christ alone: and one holy nation made up of Jews and Gentiles.

The idea of dividing God’s people into two, the church and Israel, is completely untenable based on many Scripture passages. Jesus even taught that he has two flocks, one Jewish and another Gentile, but he will gather these two flocks, and “there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). Therefore, in his last prayer, he prayed not only for his Jewish disciples, but also for Gentiles who would believe,that they may all be one” (John 17:20-21).

Second, Christ is their peace because he reconciled them to God. Formerly, Gentiles were enemies of God, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). Paul explains that unbelievers are haters of God by nature, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7). This hostility between God and man has been destroyed. More than this, believers are now called friends by Jesus (John 15:13–15), and are members of his one body, the church (Eph. 4:4–5).

God’s original intention for Adam and all mankind is reflected in the Ten Commandments, which not even one person would ever be able to begin to obey. Thus, under the Mosaic law, all mankind were placed under the curse of the law. Since all mankind are sinners, no one is able to meet the requirements of the law, so no one can be saved under the Law. Christ willingly sacrificed himself “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled” (Rom 8:4). Now, in Christ, “God has done what law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Rom 8:3), that is, to bring sinners to the kingdom of God.

Therefore, when Christ came, he “[abolished] the law of commandments and ordinances” (verse 15) in the sense that he abolished the righteous requirement that his people fulfill the law perfectly. Now the law is not able to prevent God’s people from being saved, because Christ himself fulfilled the whole law (Matt 5:17). Only Christ is perfectly righteous under the law, and this righteousness is counted to all who believe in him, “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… by the one man’s [Christ's] obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 4:5; 5:19).

Christ has now united God’s diverse people into one nation and one household. Gentiles who were formerly strangers and aliens are now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (verse 19). (See Summary Table at the bottom of this sermon.)

Growing into a Holy Temple
Paul now calls the Gentile believers as citizens of God’s kingdom and members of the God’s household. What then are their rights as well as duties in their new status?

The construction of a building starts with a foundation. The church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (v 20). These are those whose works and teachings built the foundation of the church. They were “foundational” because they founded the church by preaching the gospel of Christ, who himself said, “On this rock, I will build my church.” Jesus told Peter that him and the other disciples would build the church by preaching and confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. There were also prophets during the time of the apostles who preached the words of Christ.

Paul also says that he and the other apostles laid the foundation of the church, and a foundation is laid only once. That foundation is Christ himself, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor 3:10-11). Christ is also the “cornerstone,” the most important of all the stones of the foundation to make the building strong and square. And when the building is completed, he is the “capstone,” the crowning stone placed on top of the building structure. Isaiah foretold of Christ as the cornerstone and as the foundation of God’s redeemed people, “I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation” (Isa 28:16).

In the early church, the apostles, prophets, and some of their disciples were given special gifts of miracles—healing, raising people from the dead, prophecies, etc.—to establish evidence that they are from God, “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit.” They laid the foundation through preaching and miraculous signs. Thus, after they laid the foundation, there are no more apostles or prophets today with their special gifts to lay another foundation. The church is now being built over this foundation by the faithful preaching of the Word by its ministers.

As members of God’s house, believers are living stones joined together as a building, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). As believers, you are a diverse people from all walks of life, personalities, backgrounds, and even languages. But the whole structure is being perfected by Christ as he builds his church, one stone upon another. Paul emphasizes this “togetherness”: “being joined together” and “being built together.” This building is God’s family, “the household of God… the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15), so you are all brothers and sisters in Christ, having a strong bond of fellowship, in spite of all your differences (1 Tim 3:15).

In addition to being the household of God, Paul gives us another analogy. You are “a holy temple in the Lord” and a dwelling place for God.” We read in various places that the church is God’s temple. Jesus said that his body is the temple (John 2:19), and his body is the church. Paul says, “You are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you… God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). Peter writes again about the change in status of Gentile unbelievers, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession… Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:9-10).

All of these mean that you are joined together with all your brothers and sisters in Christ in the church where God dwells. It is a holy temple, which means you have been chosen by God and separated from the world. When you meet for worship to listen attentively to the preaching of the Word and to partake of the Lord’s Supper, you are a part of God’s temple. Assembling together for worship is not optional. Only in this temple will you grow, as the whole body of Christ grows together in holiness, righteousness and knowledge of God.

In addition to the unity of this church as God’s temple, you are also united together with all other believers in the world who also assemble together every Lord’s Day, even as we speak. Remember that you are part of the one household of God, one holy temple in the Lord.

Isaiah prophesied that not only Israel will be restored by Christ, but multitudes of Gentiles from all nations will be saved by him, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6; see Luke 2:32). Even now, when this universal church assembles together on earth every Lord’s Day, the Spirit carries us to the heavenlies, spiritually by faith. How then are we to come near to God the King and Judge of the Universe? With worldly frivolity and presumption, or with “fear, rejoicing with trembling” in worship (Psa 2:11)?

In eternity, you will be in the new heaven and new earth, spiritually and bodily. There, God will complete his promise to you, his one church—one people, one holy temple, one household: “I will make my dwelling among you and walk among you, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people” (2Cor 6:16; Lev 26:12).

§

Summary Table of Ephesians 2:1-22: Status of Gentiles Before and After Salvation

Verses 1-10
dead in sin (1) alive in Christ (5)
following the course of this world, living in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (2,3) created in Christ Jesus for good works to walk in them (10)
following the prince of the power of the air (2) seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (6)
sons of disobedience (2) walking in good works (10)
children of wrath (3) saved by God’s grace through faith (7,8)
Verses 11-22
alienated from the commonwealth of Israel (12) fellow citizens with the saints (19)
strangers to the covenants of promise (12) members of the household of God (19)
separated from Christ (12), far off (17) brought near by the blood of Christ (13)
no hope (12) reconciled to and have peace with God (15,16)
without God (12) members of the household of God and the holy temple in the Lord (19,21)

 


Notes:

  1. Bauer, W. (with Arndt/Gingrich/Danker), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition, revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 96.
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